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Riding out the storm together


With the recent escalation of the US-China trade tensions, global economic outlook and overall investment sentiment were affected. Local stock market dropped by 9% in May, which was the largest drop since the major adjustment of the global stock market in October last year. Economic data also reflected that the challenges faced by Hong Kong have been increasing. The latest Report on Monthly Survey of Retail Sales showed that the value of total retail sales has shrunk for three successive months, with a decrease of 4.5% in April. In particular, the value of sales of jewellery, watches and clocks, and electrical appliances has reduced by more than 10%. The overall volume of merchandise exports also decreased in the past six months, with a decrease of 2.6% in April.

The favourable investment sentiment prompted by the positive signs and development of the US-China trade negotiations earlier this year has been totally twisted. In April, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) further revised downwards its global economic growth forecast for this year to 3.3%, which was the slowest pace of growth since 2009. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the United Nations have also lowered their economic growth forecasts. In revising their forecasts, the institutions generally predicted that the economic situation would improve in the second half of the year, as against the weak performance in the first half. However, given the further imposing of tariffs towards Chinese products and the series of actions against Mainland's technological enterprises by the US, as well as the countermeasures initiated by the Mainland, it is expected that the US-China trade conflict would not be settled within a short period of time, leading to a more negative economic outlook in the market.

Apart from the US-China trade conflict, we are also experiencing slower momentum of economic growth in Europe, uncertainties caused by Brexit and escalating geopolitical tensions of various regions. The global political and economic environment has become complex and fluid, and may lead to overlapping risks. Hong Kong is a small and open economy. We had already taken into account the above factors when we prepared the overall economic forecast of Hong Kong at the beginning of this year. However, with the changing attitudes of the US, the development of the issue would be far more difficult to predict. We will keep a close watch on the developments, assess impacts, and prepare for the worse.

Hong Kong is an international metropolitan with diversified values, and it is common to have diverse opinions on issues of concern. The key to resolution is to clarify misconceptions and achieve mutual understanding. In the past two weeks, colleagues of the Security Bureau and I met with various organisations and representatives of the financial sector to brief them on the proposed amendments to the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance (FOO). We explained the objectives and considerations of the amendments, and listened to their concerns. We were given chances to provide elaborations on the amendment details including the protection measures under the FOO. We also brought back some of their comments for the Government’s further consideration. The mutual respect and open dialogue during the process is much appreciated.

In response to the grave concerns about the proposed FOO amendments, the SAR Government team has actively explained to different sectors on the implementation of and protection measures under the proposed amended procedures. After taking into account views from the public, the Government has introduced various adjustments to reduce the number of applicable offence items and raise the threshold of maximum imprisonment requirement so as to limit the application of the proposed surrender arrangements to the most serious offences only.

In respect of safeguarding human rights, the suspect can apply for judicial review and habeas corpus, put up a torture claim and seek legal aid if needed at any time during the course of all proceedings. The Government will carefully examine and consider every single request received from the requesting jurisdiction and add conditions on top of the FOO to safeguard the suspect’s human rights. If the requesting jurisdiction does not agree with the additional safeguards or conditions proposed by the SAR Government, we reserve the right of not following up the request. This is the first administrative safeguard. During judicial proceedings, even if the court makes a committal order after open hearing, the Chief Executive can still make the final decision on surrender taking into account factors specific to the request, such as humanitarian or the latest development of the case. The suspect can also apply for judicial reviews for the decision. This is another administrative safeguard.

Another important point is that appeals can be made to the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal (The CFA) in relation to all surrender decisions. During the hearing of such appeals, the CFA must include one overseas non-permanent judge. These judges are legal authorities from other common law jurisdictions with standing and credibility, and many of them were indeed past Chief Justices of Supreme Courts. This is another clear proof of fairness and independence of the CFA.

Last week, the Government further revised the amendment proposals to demonstrate our utmost willingness to accommodate and address views from different sectors. The revised amendment proposals can balance the concerns of various stakeholders. The Government team will continue to make an effort to explain and respond to questions in the Legislative Council and other occasions.

June 2, 2019